As part of our Arachne 5th Anniversary celebrations, we’ve asked all of our authors to come up with a blog, that might have something to do with writing or anniversaries. Some of them responded! This one is from Jacqueline Downs who we published in Stations – her story She Didn’t Believe in Ghosts is set at Crystal Palace.
On September 23rd 2016, I received a birthday gift: a five-year diary.
Instead of acting as a repository of my thoughts and feelings about pop stars and boys and fallings out with best friends, this diary has a different function. Each day, year by year, this diary requests that I respond to a question or statement. The idea is that over five years I will be able to see how my answers to the questions or statements change, or don’t change. Prompts range from the profound and potentially distressing (‘Who loves you today?’, ‘What have you got to lose?’) to the seemingly more trivial (‘Write down the last text message you sent’, ‘What is your favourite item of clothing?’). Whatever I am asked, my response will reveal something about how I am thinking or feeling at the time; how I view myself on a given day in a given year.
One of the things that makes it so challenging and interesting, is that it also serves the purpose of acting as a series of miniature writing exercises. You may need to be descriptive (‘What’s the weather like where you are right now?’) or imaginative (‘Where do you see yourself this time next year?’). You may have to negotiate your emotions (I’m always going to give the same answer to ‘When did you last speak to your parents?’ – 13 February 1979 and 12 May 2009 – and that is always going to be sad).
There isn’t much space to write, but within those confines I can answer with a couple of words or an untidy and ill-fitting paragraph. The best thing is, it gets me writing every day.
The challenge on the day I received this gift was: Write a quote for today.
I was able to answer immediately, as a writing group friend had helpfully written something apt in his birthday card to me:
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
I’m a writer. I don’t earn my living from it, but it’s who I think I am; it’s what I say I am, if I’m asked (although out loud I will always add the caveat ‘and editor’). I put off writing a lot of the time, I get a slight homework-style dread when I know I have a deadline. But once I start, even if it’s just typing or scribbling, I feel happier. And then when typing or scribbling becomes actual writing, I feel a kind of lightness inside, there’s a taking off.
In the five years since Arachne Press started, I’ve taken off a little more. My first anthologised story was in Stations. Since then I’ve had stories performed at live literature events, published in other anthologies and online magazines, and written a screenplay based on another published short story of mine. This screenplay is with a producer who is trying to get a director on board, raise money, get the words off the page and onto the screen. I’m under no illusion about how long this process could take.
But with luck – and it will take a lot of luck, now that the hard graft of several drafts is out of the way – when the diary next asks, ‘Where are you right now?’ my answer will be ‘backstage at the BAFTAs’.
Because if you want to really take off, you have to aim high.
Jacqueline Downs is a writer (and editor). She blogs infrequently at Jacqueline Downs is Reading and Writing